Ukrainian Women’s Organization of Canada – Toronto Branch celebrates Mother’s Day

Dianna Fedun, Mary Pidkowich with son John Pidkowich at the UWO-Toronto Mother's Day celebration

Dianna Fedun for New Pathway, Toronto.

Ukrainian Women’s Organization of Canada – Toronto Branch hosted a dinner on May 10th to celebrate Mother’s Day. How delightful it was to see over 120 guests, mothers with their family and friends coming together to celebrate as a community. Dianna Fedun, President of UWOC-Toronto and MC, sent out a special thank you for the event’s Convenor Mrs. Stacey Suessmuth and her committee members, Mrs. Anne Fedun, Mrs. Natalie Obal, Mrs. Nadia Ostapchuk, Ollie Leschuk and Danya Kuleba for the evening’s program.

Just prior to dinner being served, Yura Dunets, President of the Ukrainian National Youth Federation – Toronto and his cousin Wasyl recited three short poems. One was to Mother Mary, the other to Mother Ukraine and the third to Mothers. All three were very emotionally presented and tugged at the hearts of all.

At the dinner, Ukrainian Women’s Organization of Canada – Toronto Branch had the esteem pleasure of acknowledging and formally thanking one of their members for her accomplishments and contribution both in community and organizational work. Mary Pidkowich was born in Ukraine and arrived in Canada in 1938. She was raised and educated in Winnipeg, Manitoba. She completed her AMM (1948) and ARCT (1949) diploma in violin. Was a violinist in the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. Earned her Bachelor of Arts (1953) and Bachelor of Pedagogy (1954) degrees from the University of Manitoba. She went on and taught for 25 years in Dauphin, MB and Toronto area schools. Supervisor of Music with the Toronto Board or Education, specializing in vocal music. In 1944 became a member of the Ukrainian National Youth Organization (MYH.) In 1946 attended summer Ukrainian Youth Courses (Вищі Освітні Курси.) President Ukrainian Women’s Organization of Canada (OYK) President Ukrainian Women’s Council – Toronto Branch (KYK) 1st Vice President of World Federation of Ukrainian Women’s Organization (СФУЖО) First woman to be elected National President of Ukrainian National Federation of Canada (YHO) President Olzhych Foundation in Canada. Was a member of the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association (UCCLA) Genocide Museum for All Ukrainians and non-Ukrainian groups such as Kiwanis Music Festival. President, Ladies Auxiliary of the Academy of Dentistry, University of Toronto. Recipient of awards from the City of Toronto and the Government of Ontario for Volunteer Community Services. Recipient of Shevchenko Medal (Culture & Arts) awarded by Ukrainian Canadian Congress in 2016. Has written many articles both in English and Ukrainian on the importance and significance of Ukrainian culture and arts. She was married to the late Dr. Peter G. Pidkowich, has two children John and Anne and two grandchildren William and Ivanka. She was presented a bouquet of flowers and was so very moved by the standing ovation.

On March 31st 2017, Ukrainian Women’s Organization of Canada – Toronto Branch hosted the documentary film Women of Maidan and the filmmaker Olha Onyshko. We witnessed a film about courage, sacrifice, strength and the unity of women during the 2013-2014 Ukrainian Revolution of Dignity. The emotionally charged documentary, Women of Maidan, showed the power of women uniting in solidarity, to support their children and their future. The film resonated in the heart of every person present that evening.

At the film night, UWOC-Toronto announced that a donation will be made at our Mother’s Day Dinner to an organization which embodied both the message from the film and Ukrainian Women’s Organization of Canada’s mission statement. We chose Bethany Social Services through Marta Burych’s Konvalia Project and announced same as UWOC-Toronto promised. We would like to acknowledge and thank those who helped us with a donation: Olya Dallimore, Roma Dzerowicz, Luba Chemij, Olga Nahirnyj, Zenon and Orycia Chwaluk, Kathy Kohut, St. Volodymyr’s Ukrainian Catholic Women’s League, Olzhych Foundation of Canada, and St. Mary’s Ukrainian Catholic Women’s League, Mississauga.

One UWOC-Toronto member, Marta Burych, took her first trip to Ukraine in December 1999, where she met with other women organizations. Having graduated with a Master of Social Work and working in the field here in Toronto, she realized the lack of social services in Ukraine.

The next visit to Ukraine was to meet with staff from the Social Work Departments in two universities, one of which was the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy. By the end of that visit she was asked to teach modular courses in Practical Social Work until the Department of Social Work received a license to teach their own Practical Social Work. The Konvalia Project in Support of Social Work Development in Ukraine was founded to raise monies to support the modular program in Practical Social Work.

While working at the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, Marta was introduced to Taras Bryzhovaty, the husband of one of the professors at the Department of Social Work at the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy. Oksana Bryzhovaty is one of the founding members of Bethany Social Services in Kyiv. They began working together on the Prevention of Domestic Violence – educating social workers and providing much needed social services (including counselling) to women who were victims of domestic violence. This program continues to run today.

After the war started in Eastern Ukraine in March 2014, it became clear that there were hundreds of thousands of individuals who were internally displaced and needed services. From this need, the program to train social workers and to provide services to internally displaced people was developed. This program is currently running today. The Konvalia Project has worked with Bethany Social Services to develop the programs. Of importance is that the Konvalia Project is a registered Canadian Charitable organization. People can make donations to Konvalia Project at Canada Helps – Donate to any charity in Canada or mail it to 89 Queensway West, Suite 204, Mississauga, ON L5 2V2.

The charitable foundation “Bethany Social Services” was launched in 1998 by graduates of the National University “Kyiv-Mohyla Academy”. It mainly contributes towards establishing and promoting the best interests of children and families in crisis in Ukraine through education and advocacy of the target group rights.

Today, Bethany Social Services is one of the leading professional social service providers in Ukraine. It is organized by trained staff with expertise in children, family, education and advocacy. The staff at Bethany Social Services have been instrumental in developing advocacy programs on the national, oblast and municipal levels.

At the dinner, Marta Burych was presented with a donation of $1500 to be earmarked to Bethany Social Services through Konvalia. Marta delivered a message from Taras Bryzhovaty, Director of Bethany Social Services in Ukraine.

The message said, in particular, that Bethany Social Services keep working and providing support to vulnerable families with children in Ukraine. Many Ukrainian families now are in difficult and sometimes insurmountable circumstances that they can’t independently overcome or minimize. UWOC-Toronto’s donation will be used to provide the necessary social services to single mothers, who care about their children without any assistance, families in crisis, internally displaced families with children, women who are victims of domestic violence and to families with children that want to stay together. Bethany Social Services will provide the families with the necessary assistance in accordance with their individual needs, including individual and family counseling, and in case of deterioration of their life situation, provide for them necessities like clothes, food, medicines, and other needed support.

Olya L. Leschuk gave a tribute in her own words of what Mother represented to her and to many in attendance: “Mama is one of the first words we learn as babies. As a child, I looked up to my mother for love, food, caring, the needs of life, needs of the soul like prayer and church, learning to make good Ukrainian food like varenyky, borscht, kapusniak, crafts like embroidery, pysanky and keeping customs and traditions alive. What is the definition of the word “Mother” – a female parent, a woman in relation to her child or children? Who are our mothers? They are our birth and adoptive mothers – мати, мама, мамуся, сестра, тітка, тьотя, she could be single, married, surrogate, a step-mother, a grandmother, a Godmother, a Mother-in-law, Daughter-in-law, and at times a father takes the place of our mothers. One is not born to be a mother, one becomes one. There are times when one ventures upon motherhood and says to themselves, “This is impossible, how can I do this?” ….and yet you find yourself trying to do it…doing it…. trying your best to do it. Then you realize you have done the impossible, all for the sake of your children. We don’t get to choose our mothers. That would make everything so much easier. Or would it? There’s no such thing as a perfect mother. We may wish our mothers were in some way different, but that’s a waste of energy. The truth is, any mother we would have had would’ve left us with a lifetime of issues to sort through. On the flip side, those very struggles become the source of our greatest strengths. Complain and moan all you want about their shortcomings, but you’ve got to love her because she’s made you the person you are today. In honor of Mother’s Day, let’s take a moment to be grateful for all the mother material we have to talk about in therapy.”

Olya L. Leschuk singled out five types of Mothers:

“1. The All Up in your Business & Face mother – she was like that all the time – what you ate, who you talked to? She had an opinion on what you should do and how you should do it all the time: Her Way! You do as I say. This was her way of showing she cared, even if it felt overbearing. She’d say things like, I love you and I want you to be a somebody. She tells you not to care what your friends think but they won’t let you do certain things because of what other people will think. Your mother was your doctor and force fed you medicine for anything ranging from a headache, stomach ache to a stubbed toe with chasnyk, honey and warm milk and if you were sick maybe a bit of tarragon. She’d say – “You’re too skinny. You must eat” Your mother called you farm animals when she got mad and cursing was interesting – May a duck kick you – You are an evil spirit! – May a bubble jump out of your nose. Because of all this attention, which was unwanted at times, you needed lots of privacy and alone time. Freedom and independence was as essential to you as oxygen so to escape you joined a good Ukrainian organization like MYHO, PLAST or the Church Youth group. Your Acquired Strengths: you got a lot of attention growing up, from all the other mother/parent surrogates in the organizations as well. So, you’re not looking for any from the world. You became self-assured, confident and you didn’t need anyone’s approval about anything.

2. The Fierce, Working Mother who was also Very Thrifty.

She had to drop you off early at school nearly every day because she had an important meeting at the hall or work. And after school, you walked home, made yourself a snack, did your homework and sometimes put yourself to bed. She became your teacher, disciplinarian and protector. She’d be thrifty by saving catalogues, wrapping paper and all kinds of jars, containers and aluminum foil. You had some Issues: You heard the words, “Hold on one moment, you have to write and read Ukrainian today, you’re going to get it, you have to go to confession”. Your acquired strengths: you had a strong role model that showed you that women can both have a family and be valued. Once you finally found the way in which you’re a badass (probably in a different way than your mother) there was absolutely no stopping you. You also learned to save and not squander.

3. The Rebel Mother Who Prides Herself on Being Unconventional.

Conventional was a dirty word in your house. You had to be proud of your culture and heritage. When all the other kids brought ham & cheese or peanut butter and jam sandwiches for lunch you were eating varenyky with shkvarky, holubtsi, borscht, kasha, studenetz, kobassa laden with garlic sandwiches, chrusty, and pampushky.

When all the other kids were wearing poodle skirts or saddleback shoes or even Guess jeans, you showed up to school wearing your vyshyta sorochka because you had to go to some concert after school. When all the other kids signed up for jazz dance class, your mom sent you to Ukrainian school, Ukrainian dancing, Ukrainian Youth groups or violin & piano lessons. You had some issues: while you appreciated your exposure to all these things, you longed to fit in occasionally. You felt guilty shopping at the mall. You knew your mom would be devastated that you didn’t participate in culture, singing, choir, dance and school. Your acquired strengths: even if you chose a more “normal” path in life, it wasn’t an arbitrary choice by any means. You became a free thinker to the core and you examine your choices in life thoroughly before making them. Your loved ones can always count on you to have an opinion, whether they like it or not.

4. She Did Everything to be a Perfect Mother.

Your bed had to be made every day with hospital corners, your dress had to be ironed, your hair had to be done and you always had to behave properly in public. If you embarrassed your mother in front of anyone, you’d never hear the end of it. She taught us about Logic – “Because I said so”. She taught us Irony – “keep crying, I’ll give you something to cry about.” My mother taught me behaviour modification & genetic reassignment: “Stop acting like your father”. She taught me anticipation “Wait till your father gets home”. And, she also taught me to appreciate a job well done “If you’re going to kill each other do it outside, I just finished cleaning house”.

You had some issues: you internalized these standards of perfection and are supercritical of yourself … to the point where you give yourself ulcers over writing a thank you note and you tried very hard not to show your emotions. Your acquired strengths: you’re a driven overachiever who pushes herself to greatness. Reliable is your middle name. And you have your mother to thank for that. Дякую, мамo.

5. The Proud Mama.

Whatever your talent was, your mother supported it wholeheartedly – to the point that she regarded it as her talent. She took being your pageant coach, the mom-manager of your singing career, she’d work at getting you a solo in the choir or dance group, a poem at an Olha Basarab concert or your sports agent if there was a basketball game at the old UNF College hall. She did this just a little bit too seriously at times. You had some issues: you know deep down that your stage mother just wanted you to be a success, but being a professional show pony as a child has made you an anxious mess. Your acquired strengths: Duh. You’re extremely talented. There’s a reason your mom wanted to take 15 percent of your earnings or puff out her chest proudly saying, “That’s my child”. You may not be a star, but you’ll be truly successful in the way that you always dreamed of. Finally, my mother taught me about fear with a threat or was it ESP -: “One Day you’ll have a child who’ll be just like you”. And with a knowing phrase of “чекай, чекай, чекай”.

Life comes full circle. We become our mothers. We have developed her traits, even if we’ve said, ‘I’ll never be like that” or “I’ll never do that”. We have become caring, loving, strong, compassionate, sensitive and fierce when needed, stylish, proud, artistic, creative, entrepreneurial and a champion for rights when necessary, just our mothers. If all the armies in the world were commanded by mothers like we had, and what we’ve become, they would all be trained in decimating the enemy’s hate with adorable and wonderful smiles, teachable moments and warm hugs. A big thank you to all the mothers and those that take the roles of mothers.”

The evening would not be complete, without entertainment. We were very fortunate to have a new singing group, Mama’s Flowers came to sing for us before they went off on tour. The ensemble consisted of Natalie Obal, Nadia Ostapchuk, Oksana Rohatyn Wasyluk, Patti Latyshko and Halyana Czechowska on guitar. Guests were invited and encouraged to sing along to many well known Ukrainian songs. Dinner was catered by Baby Point Catering while UNF – Toronto Branch sponsored the wine for the dinner.

A most enjoyable evening had by all.

Nadia Ostapchuk with sister Natalie Obal, Halyana Czechowska and Patti Latyshko – Mother’s
Flowers Ensemble
Dianna Fedun – President UWOC-Toronto with Granddaughter Charlotte
Pauline Zahrebelny – Past President UWOC-Toronto with son Al Zahrebelny
Sisters Ollie Leschuk & Alice Kushny
Boris Malyczewsky, Kathy Kohut, Sharon Malyczewsky with mother Stacey Suessmuth – Convenor of the Mother’s Day Dinner